First radar images of 2012 DA14 – Watch it spin!

This collage of 72 individual radar-generated images of asteroid 2012 DA14 was created using data from NASA’s 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif. The observations were made on the night of Feb. 15-16, 2013 Click for large image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA released the first radar images of 2012 DA14 made with the Deep Space Network’s 230-foot radio antenna at Goldstone during last Friday’s flyby. Astronomers used the dish to beam radio waves at the asteroid and “listened” to the echoes to create pictures of its shape and surface features. Bats use the sonic equivalent by bouncing sound waves off of objects to “see” their environment and hunt for food.

The pictures were made over 7.8 hours about 8 hours after closest approach on the night of Feb. 15-16, 2013. Like a child in a portrait session, 2012 DA14 refused to sit still. As the antenna did its magic, the asteroid’s distance from Earth increased from 74,000 to 195,000 miles. Additional radar observations are planned through Wednesday Feb. 20 to further refine its orbit.

Watch 2012 DA14 rotate in this animation of 73 frames made with the Goldstone antenna. The video is a loop – you’ll see it 9 rotations.

Watching the video, you can easily see at least two interesting features of the 150-foot-long asteroid. First, it’s elongated like an Idaho spud. Second, it appears to be spinning about its long axis in a counterclockwise direction. Astronomers were fortunate to catch nearly one complete ~8 hour rotation of the asteroid during the observing window.

The NASA press release indicated these pictures are “the initial sequence”. It’s hoped more and higher quality images will become available soon. More information and another image HERE.

Further thoughts on fireballs, asteroids and coincidence

Fragments said to be from the Russian meteorite fall ring the hole in Chebarkul Lake. Credit: Reuters: Chelyabinsk region Interior Ministry

Asteroid 2012 DA14 has moved on, and the Russians are busy cleaning up the mess from yesterday’s fireball. Hopefully a few people are also busy looking for meteorites from the fall. The only meteorite-maybes I’ve seen photos of are the small, black rocks found around the perimeter of the hole in Chebarkul Lake, west of Chelybinsk.

A Tagish Lake meteorite fragment. Credit: Michael Holly, Creative Services, University of Alberta.

If these are indeed meteorites from the bolide, they remind me of the black, carbonaceous debris dropped by the Tagish Lake fall over the Tagish Lake area in British Columbia on January 18, 2000. Carbonaceous chondrites are fragile, carbon-rich meteorites that easily shatter into dust and small bits during a fall. If that’s what we’re dealing with here, meteorite hunters better get cracking – this type erodes quickly. Divers found no trace of any meteorites in the lake at the bottom of the hole today.

It is odd though that two days have gone by without a single significant fragment found. Meteorites, which develop a black fusion crust on atmospheric entry, would show up beautifully against the snowy Russian landscape. So what gives? How long will see purported Chelyabinsk “meteorites”pop up on eBay before the real item finally shows? Only hours after the fall, the first dubious specimens appeared on the auction site. Not a one of them looks like a fresh fall and some are clearly not meteorites. Buyer beware!

These MET-7 satellite photos clearly show the Russian fireball traveling from east to west. North is at top. Asteroid DA14′s trajectory was south to north or nearly perpendicular to the fireball’s. Click for more information and a short video. Credit and copyright: EUMETSAT

As for the Russian fireball being related in any way to the asteroid flyby, it is not. I’ve been in touch with folks who orbits and it’s becoming even clearer that we’re dealing with two very different asteroids. Not only were their orbits nearly perpendicular to each other from the perspective of the Earth, but it’s not possible for a cloud of DA14 fragments to even reach the city of Chelyabinsk at 55 degrees north latitude in Russia.

Since the fragments would approach Earth from due south nearly parallel to the planet’s axis, if they hit the planet, they’d strike the southern hemisphere. From the fragments’ very-close-to-Earth perspective, Chelyabinsk, Russia is on the far or opposite side of the globe and totally out of sight. Amateur asteroid discoverer Dr. Marco Langbroek uses this analogy and I paraphrase slightly:

“Compare it with a car. A bird flying toward your car will always hit the front of the car – it cannot hit the back of the car. Chelyabinsk at 55 North latitude is “the back of the car” in this comparison, given the approach direction of 2012 DA 14 and any fragments of it.”

We place a lot of faith in coincidence because, well, if you drop a plate, it breaks. The two are related. So if two close meteors or asteroids appear around the same time, many of us make the assumption they’re related too. It totally makes sense to wonder about a connection between the two events, but once the data is in, we need to take another look at our surmise. Speaking of data, we’re still waiting on radar images from the Goldstone antenna. As soon as they’re available, you’ll see them here.

Animation of DA14 made from images taken this morning from New Mexico. Credit: Ernesto Guido and Nick Howes

I’m curious if any of you got to see the asteroid flyby either through binoculars or telescope. If so, we’d love to hear your story. Clouds were cruel here in Duluth, Minn., but I stood at the telescope and waited. And waited. Finally, a few thin openings passed the asteroid’s location just above the bowl of the Little Dipper about 7:15 p.m. (CST). There was just enough time to identify DA14 and watch it scoot north. One minute of joy followed by hours of clouds.

Cosmic debris rains down through the atmosphere nearly every day, accumulating at a rate of 37,000 to 78,000 tons per year. While that may sound like a lot, much of it is dust or passes unseen over the oceans.

At least a half-dozen times a year, however, a fireball burns up over a populated area and drops meteorites. Their fall is pinpointed by careful analysis of the angle of entry based on eyewitness reports, Doppler weather radar, security cameras or even dashboard cams, as we saw in Russia on Friday. Once the word is out, everyone from those closest to the areas of impact to meteorite hunters from across the planet are eager to find a piece of otherworldly treasure. The Chelyabinsk region has been pretty much off-limits to foreigners until recently, so it should be interesting to see who gets in and out without being arrested.

What they’re looking for are leftover fragments from collisions of bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Over the eons, Jupiter’s gravity nudges the shattered rocks out of the belt, sending them toward the inner solar system. Millions of years later, those fragments may hurl toward Earth. As the space rocks plummet through the atmosphere, the heat and pressure become so intense that even a fairly large object, say 13 to 50 feet across, will more often than not burst into harmless pieces that fall to the ground as meteorites.

The famous Peekskill fireball of October 9, 1992 that dropped a meteorite that smashed the rear end of a Chevy Malibu

A 13-footer hits our planet about once a year. One the size of Friday’s fall in Russia — about 50 feet across and weighing about 7,000 tons — strikes Earth about once every 50-60 years. The bigger they are, the less frequently they fall but the greater the consequences.

Yesterday’s flyby asteroid 2012 DA14, a rock about 150 feet across, would have caused regional devastation had it struck in one piece. One that size only rings our bell every thousand years. An asteroid of about 0.9 miles across could cause planet-wide devastation and climate change. The good news is such an event happens only once in half a million years.

While most of the 0.9-mile and larger near-Earth asteroids have been discovered, there are something like a million others as big as the one that zoomed by harmlessly yesterday. Sky surveys have ferreted out many of them, but many more remain to be found — before they find us. While there are many great ideas about how we might deflect an asteroid headed toward Earth, there are presently no programs underway to accomplish that goal.

Watch asteroid 2012 DA14 flyby LIVE on the Web

2012 DA14 earlier this morning seen from Australia. The negative or reversed image is a 4-minute time exposure. The fast-moving asteroid created a trail of light during that time. Credit: Dave Herald

After this morning’s Russian fireball, we’re all sitting on the edge of our seats, but the fireball and 2012 DA14 are unrelated asteroid fragments on very different paths. One made a beeline directly to Earth, the other will safely pass 17,150 miles away around 1:24 p.m. (CST) today. The latest estimates on the Russian meteoroid’s size before it broke it up in the atmosphere put it around 50 feet across with a weight upwards of 7,000 tons. Today’s asteroid in contrast is about 150 feet end-to-end and tips the scales at 209,000 tons.

Amateur astronomer Dave Herald of Australia has been busy taking pictures of 2012 DA14 through his telescope overnight. His photograph shows the asteroid as a trail against the starry backdrop as it moved northward during the 4-minute time exposure. Herald will be providing an online feed with his observations and photos for NASA later today.

Simulated image of 2012 DA14 approaching Earth this morning around 9:15 a.m. CST. Antarctica shows up nicely as the asteroid closes in. Click to see the latest image.

If you’d like to hear commentary and see real-time pictures of the flyby (from Dave and others), check out NASA TV’s live stream beginning at 11 a.m. Central Time and continuing through the afternoon. Undoubtedly you’ll learn more about the Russian fireball there, too. When pictures are shown, the asteroid will look exactly like a star, because you’re looking at a small object many thousands of miles away.

A Ustream feed of the flyby from a telescope at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will be streamed for three hours starting at 8 p.m. CST this evening when the asteroid is visible in a dark sky over the U.S. You can view the feed and ask researchers questions about the flyby via Twitter HERE.

And don’t forget to take a virtual ride-along with the asteroid available HERE. Images are updated every 2 minutes. Enjoy the show!

Go for a virtual asteroid ride; seismic activity on 2012 DA14?

Asteroid 2012 DA14, which will pass about 17,200 miles from Earth tomorrow (Fri. Feb. 15) around 1:24 p.m. CST is about 150 feet long or somewhat less than half the length of a football field. Illustration: Bob King using wiki and NASA images

As asteroid 2012 DA14 silently flies toward Earth, how would you like to go along for the ride? Now you can, virtually speaking. NASA has created a simulated display that allows you to accompany the asteroid as it speeds toward the planet. Since the view refreshes every two minutes, you can watch the planet grow larger as the asteroid sweeps in to make its closest approach tomorrow around 1:24 p.m. Central Time. That’s when the real drama will unfold as 2012 DA14 passes just 17,200 miles over Indonesia before speeding back into the depths of space. Click HERE to make the trip.

Although 2012 DA14 won’t impact Earth, the planet’s gravity will leave a potentially strong impression on the asteroid. Besides bending its orbit into a smaller circle with a shorter orbital period during the flyby, it’s possible that the space rock might tremble with tremors or asteroid-quakes.

View from the virtual asteroid tracker looking toward Earth today Feb. 14, 2013 at 1:37 p.m., one day before closest approach. Credit: NASA

“We are going to be looking closely for evidence of seismic activity on 2014 DA14 as it passes by,” says Richard Binzel, a professor of planetary science at MIT. “This is the first case of an object coming close enough to experience quakes AND where we have enough notice to plan observations.”

The Galileo spacecraft captured this “stretched color” view of asteroid 951 Gaspra in 1991. The red color is caused by solar radiation and cosmic rays weathering of the asteroid’s soil. Credit: NASA

A few years ago Binzel noticed a small group of asteroids that didn’t show signs of “space weathering” from bombardment by cosmic rays and solar radiation over the eons. High-energy particles interact with asteroids’ rocky surfaces and cause their soils to turn dark-red.

After studying their orbits, he discovered that all these “fresh-faced” space rocks had had close encounters with the Earth in the past million years.

“We believe they were ‘shaken up’ by their encounters with Earth,” he says. “Gravitational forces during the flybys can stretch, rattle, and torque these asteroids, causing dark, space-weathered material on the surface to be overturned, revealing the fresh stuff underneath.”

NASA’s Goldstone radar dish in California will have its eye trained on the asteroid during tomorrow’s flyby. The dish sends radio waves at the asteroid and measures their echo or reflection upon return to build up a map of its shape. Credit: NASA

2012 DA14′s crust could shift by an inch or two and possibly release a puff of asteroid dust. MIT postdoc Nick Moskovitz, who works with Binzel, is coordinating observations with worldwide observatories to pin down the color, spin, shape, and reflectivity of the asteroid as it passes by. NASA’s 70-meter Goldstone radar dish will also repeatedly ping 2012 DA14 with radio waves and measure the energy reflected back to create a 3D picture of it. If we’re very fortunate, the dish might even see the effects of seismic activity. Read more on the topic HERE.

Nice video about the flyby from NASA’s ScienceCast

Photo of incoming space rock 2012 DA14; check out a cool asteroid widget

2012 DA14 is the tiny black dot between tick marks in this reversed (negative) image. It passed near the globular cluster 47 Tucanae (below) this morning Feb. 13, 2013. The picture is a stack of 12 x 1-min exposures. The stars are trailed because the telescope tracked the asteroid. Credit: Dave Herald

Congratulations to amateur astronomer Dave Herald of Murrumbateman, Australia! He snapped one of the first images of incoming asteroid 2012 DA14 this morning as it passed through the halo of the rich globular cluster 47 Tucanae. At the time, the 150-foot-long rock was 744,000 miles from Earth and a very dim magnitude 18.4.

With Friday’s visit by 2012 DA14 swiftly approaching, what better time than now to get an asteroid widget? NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has created a widget that helps you keep track of asteroids that are making close approaches to our planet. Called Asteroid Watch, it tracks both near-Earth asteroids and comets.

JPL’s Asteroid Watch widget

Asteroid Watch displays the date of closest approach, approximate object diameter and distance from Earth for each flyby. The object’s name is displayed by hovering your cursor over its encounter date. Clicking on the encounter date will display a Web page with details about that object.

The Widget displays the next five Earth approaches to within 4.6 million miles (19.5 times the distance to the moon). An object larger than about 150 meters (492 feet) that can approach the Earth to within this distance is termed a potentially hazardous object or PHA.

The Mac version runs on OS 10.4 or later, while the PC / Mac version works on computers with Yahoo! Widgets installed. Go HERE to get either version along with setup instructions. Once downloaded and opened, look for it the Mac version on your dashboard. The hovering feature works well and the asteroids are current. There’s even a little arrow link on the bottom you can click on for the full list of upcoming close approaches.

I’ve not been able to test out the PC version, but have learned that it may not update like the Mac version does. Check it out and let us know what you find. If it doesn’t work as expected, not to worry. Just visit and bookmark NASA’s Near-Earth Close Approaches table, which shows a complete listing of recent and upcoming close asteroid flybys. There 16  of them coming up in the next two weeks. Do we live in a cosmic shooting gallery or what?

How to find and follow asteroid 2012 DA14 during Friday’s flyby

Get ready for Friday’s flyby of the 150-long rocky asteroid 2012 DA14. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 has become a sizzling topic online and on the TV news. Not a week goes by lately when I don’t hear about “the asteroid that’s going to fly by Earth”. Yesterday John, my mailman, asked me about it.

“Supposed to be half as long as a football field,” he offered. John was right. It’s a good-sized rock – the largest we know of to approach Earth this closely.

It’s fun that folks are excited about this 150-foot long solar system vagabond. I only wish we’d all have a chance to see it. Using the charts and tips below, it’s my hope that many of you will.

2012 DA14 was discovered by astronomers in the La Sagra Sky Survey program in Spain in February 2012. With an orbital period (time it takes to go around the sun) of about 368 days it makes annual spins by Earth. Friday’s flyby will be the closest the asteroid has been for many years and the closest it will come for at least the next 30.

And we do mean close. On Feb. 15 at about 1:24 p.m. (CST), 2012 DA14 will zoom 17,200 miles above the Earth’s surface traveling at 17,400 mph. While this is a record approach for a known object of this size, other smaller asteroids have skimmed nearer yet.

We only have to look back to June 27, 2011 when 2011 MD, about 20-50 feet wide, passed just 7,500 miles overhead. No harm came to Earth’s nail-biting residents then and none will during Friday’s pass. The record by the way for the closest-known shave goes to the petite, 3-foot-long 2011 CQ1 at 3,400 miles on Feb. 4, 2011.

2012 DA14 will briefly fly between the geostationary belt of communications satellites (white dots) and the Earth during closest approach Friday Feb. 15. Notice how it comes from under the Earth, moving from south to north. Credit: Simone Corbellini

On average, we’d expect an object of 2012 DA 14′s size to get this close to the Earth about once every 40 years. An actual collision by something this big is far rarer – about once every 1200 years.

On its inbound leg, 2012 DA14 will buzz between the constellation of GPS satellites, which orbit at about 12,600 miles, and the ring of geostationary satellites located about 22,200 miles above Earth’s equator. None will be in danger because the asteroid will come up from below and pass through the empty zone between the two.

Some 300 active weather and communications satellites are parked in orbit in the ring and relay communications around the globe. When your favorite TV weatherperson flashes pictures of storms and hurricanes taken from space, you can bet it was photographed and transmitted back to Earth by a geostationary satellite. There are presently about 32 GPS satellites used by government and consumers alike to pinpoint precise locations on the ground.

Simulation of the original constellation of 24 GPS satellites orbiting Earth. Credit: Wikipedia

As the asteroid zips by, Earth’s gravity will bend its orbit, changing its orbital period from 368 to 317 days and making close approaches like this one less likely. As for 2012 DA14 striking any satellite at all, Donald Yeomans, head of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says it’s “extremely remote.” Given the huge volume of space the asteroid must pass through as it swings by Earth and the tiny number of potential targets, we might liken it to a gnat in a mansion.

Despite its proximity, 2012 DA14′s tiny size means not even the largest telescopes will show it as more than a star-like point of light. If you live in eastern Europe, Asia or Australia, you’ll see the asteroid at its closest, when it not only be brightest but moving fastest. I’ve seen a few Earth-approaching asteroids, and they really can book across the sky, but few travel as fast as this one will. In just three hours centered on closest approach, 2012 DA14 will zip from the Southern Cross all the way to the Bowl of the Big Dipper!

World map with time zones. The area inside the red circle shows very approximately where the asteroid will be visible in a dark sky when it’s closest and brightest. Map credit: Wikipedia

It reaches peak brightness around 1:24 p.m. (CST) or 7:30 p.m. in London, England. While the sky will be dark there at that time, the asteroid will still not have risen in the east. We have to go travel farther east and south to catch it at its brightest. Let’s pick Athens, Greece. There the the sky will be dark early enough to spot the asteroid at its brightest (magnitude 7.4) low in Virgo around 10 p.m. local time using standard 40-50mm binoculars. Observers should look for a dim “star” slowly moving from south to north in the field of view.

A map from Heavens Above showing the entire sky from Jakarta, Indonesia. The labeled arc is the asteroid’s path during the night. Credit: Chris Peat

As we continue moving east across the globe, 2012 DA14 gets higher and higher in a dark sky. If you sense the eastern hemisphere has the best seats in the house, you’re right.

Residents of Jakarta, Indonesia for example will see the whole show from beginning to end. Fortunate sky watchers there can spot 2012 DA14 with a telescope around 1 a.m. Saturday morning Feb. 16 (local time) near the Southern Cross.

By 3 a.m. they can switch over to binoculars to catch it at maximum brightness.  At dawn, the asteroid will have made a complete south-to-north beeline from Cross to Dipper and once again require a telescope to see. What a way to spend a night out, eh?

Did I say it was moving quickly? When nearest Earth, 2012 DA14 will hurry along at 1 degree or two full moon diameters per minute. Not only will you need binoculars, you’ll also need to know exactly where to look. By the time the sky is dark across the U.S., South America and Canada Friday night, the asteroid will have slowed considerably and faded to around magnitude 11.5 -12.

Sadly, U.S. sky watchers will need a 6-inch or larger telescope to find and follow it. The good news is that the asteroid will be conveniently placed in the northern sky near the Little Dipper.

The asteroid is shown at three times for an observer in Athens, Greece Friday evening facing east around 9:45 p.m. local time. 1 = 9:45 p.m., 2 = 10 p.m. and 3 = 10:15 p.m. Stars are plotted to about magnitude 7.5, the asteroid’s brightness at the time. Credit: Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

I’ve given much thought on how to prepare charts for viewing 2012 DA14. When brightest, it’s not only crossing a great deal of sky in a hurry, but it’s so close to Earth that viewers in say, Vienna, will see it in a somewhat different part of the sky than those in Greece. You can’t make a one-size-fits-all chart for this bugger.

What I did instead was to create two charts – one for Athens, Greece and another for the central U.S. The Greek chart shows the asteroid when closest and brightest; the U.S. chart is centered on Duluth but is useful for a larger region, because the asteroid will be far enough away at that time for the path shift to be much smaller.

Just remember that you’ll need a telescope and good knowledge of the sky to find and follow our friend from the U.S. Use the charts to locate where the asteroid will be at a particular time and then wait for it to arrive as you gaze through the eyepiece.

2012DA14 will have faded to 11.5-12.0 magnitude when it gets dark enough to see it in the U.S., so you’ll need this more detailed chart to find it. Times are Central Standard for Friday Feb. 15, 2013. North is up and stars plotted to mag. 13. Brighter stars labeled with magnitudes. Right-click, save and print out for use at the telescope. Credit: Created with Emil Bonnano’s MegaStar atlas.

I highly recommend two websites that will show you a map of 2012 DA14′s path in your local sky as well as two other options for creating your own map:

Heavens Above - Webmaster Chris Peat has prepared a special 2012 DA14 page on this well-known satellite prediction site. Head over, log in with your location and then click the 2012 DA14 link at the top of the page for a map with times. If you select a spot on the asteroid’s path and click again, you’ll be shown a detailed map with stars to 8th magnitude European, Asian and Down Under sky watchers will find these maps most useful.

* Visual SAT-Flare Tracker 3D - Select your location and click on the 2012 DA14 asteroid header. Then click on the “Best opportunity to see the asteroid from your location” link to see a star map and asteroid path. Be aware that the faintest stars shown here are only about 6th magnitude (naked eye limit), but they’ll still be quite useful for tracking; webmaster Simone Corbellini uses the very accurate JPL Horizons data (see below) for path-making.

* Do-it-yourself – If you have your own star-charting program that allows you to add new asteroids to the database, go to the Minor Planet Center and grab 2012 DA14′s orbital elements. Enter these into your program and print your own star chart. Again, because of how close the asteroid will be, its path might be somewhat different than what your program will show, but at least you’ll be in the neighborhood.

* Tedious but foolproof method – Head over to the JPL Horizon site, type 2012 DA14 into the search box, select your city, time interval (whether you want an asteroid position every 15 minutes, hour or whatever) and then click “Generate ephemeris”. You can hand-plot the positions listed onto a star chart you’ve made with your software program. Be aware that all the times are Universal Time or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Subtract 5 hours for Eastern time, 6 for Central and so on. This method has worked very well for me during previous close flybys.

Good luck and I hope a few of you get to see this running rock!

2012 DA14 sparks asteroid fever plus Vesta in 3-D

Illustration of an asteroid and its tiny moon making a close pass by Earth. Credit: ESA

Here we go again. Heard of the latest asteroid to strike terror across the Web? It’s 2012 DA14, a flying rock almost 150 feet across discovered on February 23 by astronomers at Observatorio Astronomico de La Sagra in Spain. The observatory uses robotic telescopes to find and track near-Earth asteroids. At the time of discovery, DA14 was passing Earth at a fairly typical distance of 1.5 million miles.

After calculating a preliminary orbit for 2012 DA14, astronomers learned that on February 15, 2013, it will zoom by only 17,000 miles from the surface of our planet. While this is very close by solar system standards, it’s a long ways for you and I. If you consider that the diameter of Earth is about 8,000 miles, this small object will miss us by more than twice that. While it will very briefly pass through the geosynchronous satellite belt, the odds of it hitting one are extremely small. The average separation between satellites there is 59 miles. A geosynchronous satellite orbits 22, 236 miles above Earth, an altitude where the satellite’s orbital period matches Earth’s rotation. That means they’re essentially stationary in the sky, making them ideal for relaying communications around the globe. But I digress.

Most asteroids reside in the main belt beyond Mars, but there are additional asteroid families - the Apollos and Atens - whose orbits cross that of Earth's and have the potential to impact in the future. Mars orbit crossers are called Amors. Credit: ESA / Medialab

Some websites are saying a strike is imminent or at the very least possible. The fact is, it won’t happen in the foreseeable future. Yes, it’s possible that sometime in the distant future, there might be a closer pass or even a dead-on hit, but that’s not in the cards for now. On the Torino Impact Hazard Scale DA14 rates a “0″, defined as:

The likelihood of a collision is zero, or is so low as to be effectively zero. Also applies to small objects such as meteors and bodies that burn up in the atmosphere as well as infrequent meteorite falls that rarely cause damage.

And on the related Palermo Impact Scale, it comes in at a -4 , meaning there will be no consequences during this flyby. You might recall the hype surrounding the even closer flyby of asteroid 2011 MD last June. That asteroid, which measured between 3o and 150 feet across, came even closer than DA14 will at a distance of only 7,500 miles. We all survived.

2011 MD passed so near Earth last June our planet's gravity significantly changed the tip or inclination of its orbit. We're the gravity hog compared to these small objects. Credit: NASA

Ongoing surveys like the one at La Sagra are underway to find every possible rock big enough to put the hurt on Earth. Most of the asteroids measuring one kilometer or more have been seen and their orbits determined, but there are still plenty of extremely faint and small rocks out there like DA14. Expect many more to be found in the coming years.

Since we’re talking asteroids, let’s head out to the main belt to Vesta and see what the Dawn space probe’s been up to lately.

This 3-D photo shows the central complex in Vesta’s Rheasilvia impact basin. The central complex is approximately 120 miles in diameter and has about 12 miles of relief from its base, making it about two and a half times taller than Mt. Everest. Click to enlarge. Credit: all photos NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ UCLA/ MPS/ DLR/ IDA

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has released several excellent 3D images recently that give you that “being there” feeling. To see depth in the photos, you’ll need a pair of those red-blue specs called 3-D anaglyph glasses. Click HERE to order a free pair.

Caparronia crater is the large, roughly 18 mile diameter crater in the top part of the image. The 3D effect highlights the large ridge running across the base of the crater. Also visible is the large, degraded crater offset from the center of the image. Click to enlarge.

In addition to creating detailed photographic maps from its 130-mile-high orbit, Dawn’s been looking for water ice in the asteroid’s polar regions. While none has been discovered yet, the temperature there is colder than -200 F, the cutoff for water to exist in the top 10 feet of Vesta’s rocky soil. The “warmer” equatorial regions hovers around -190 F.

Vesta's equatorial troughs are visible around Vesta’s equator. These troughs encircle most of the asteroid and are up to 12 miles wide. To the north of these troughs are a number of old, highly eroded, large craters.